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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... Fifty years ago, a small mill town near Pittsburgh suffered the worst air pollution disaster in U.S. history in Donora, Pennsylvania.


KNOY: Fifty years ago a small mill town near Pittsburgh suffered the worst air pollution disaster in US history. It was caused by a weather event in which cool air over an area becomes trapped by a blanket of warm air that moves in above it. These so-called atmospheric inversions collect pollutants and create smog. In 1948 in Donora, Pennsylvania, one inversion turned deadly. The entire Pittsburgh area had been fogged in for a week. In Donora, fumes from the local zinc works containing sulfur dioxide and other toxic gases became trapped close to the ground. After 3 days rains finally cleared the air, but not before 20 people were dead and nearly 6,000 sickened. Citizens who gathered recently in Donora to commemorate the event found some solace in the tragedy. With Donora on their minds, members of Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, devoting nearly $100 million to air pollution controls nationwide. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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